Tomorrow Haydock Park hosts the finals of the Challenger Series; the card looks extremely challenging.
After the six Challenger Series Finals the card concludes with the Tim Moloney Handicap Chase at 5.30 run over three and a half miles. I've spent some time this Good Friday afternoon looking at this race but haven't come up with an angle that makes much appeal.
A number in the field boast respectable form on soft ground but the current going is described as good, good to soft in places, and it seems unlikely that much rain will fall overnight.
Of the eleven declared, to my mind just four look guaranteed to stay the trip and appreciate the underfoot conditions - Abracadabra Sivola, Bertie Boru, Azure Fly and Carli King.
At eleven years old the last-named is no spring chicken but he races from the front and I'd expect to see similar tactics employed tomorrow on this tight track which tends to suit front-runners.
Two years ago he won a handicap chase at Warwick on good ground over this trip off a mark of 122; tomorrow he goes off 119. Will others in the field be able to keep tabs on him in the early stages?
Sixteen days ago Abradcadabra Sivola beat Tinker Time half a length with Bertie Boru a head behind in third over this sort of trip on good going at Taunton. The winner looked a shade fortunate as Bertie Boru was snatched up four from home when short of room and subsequently couldn't make up the ground. There doesn't look much between the pair and that's reflected in the betting.
Azure Fly was to be the each-way selection (with Mr J Nailor claiming seven). He didn't run his race last time but generally is a consistent sort who likes decent ground and stays; that said, he has a lot of placed efforts to his name...
The layers bet 5/1 Courtown Oscar with no runner in the field bigger than 12/1, all of which tells me our friends in the bookmaking fraternity aren't prepared to take too many chances here so instead I've gone for a more speculative selection in the stayers hurdle final at 4.20.
Cooking Fat has always struck me as the sort of beast you wouldn't want to bet with an on-course bookmaker with six pints of real ale inside you.
He brings decent form to the table here and is clearly the best horse in the race on RP ratings. Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy makes the case for and the fact connections expect their charge to improve on better ground is encouraging.
Cooking Fat's chance is respected but at 9/1 I've decided to look elsewhere.
At Cheltenham back in October Young Dillon was beaten just over five lengths into fourth behind Wholestone, West Approach and Ballymalin, conceding the winner three pounds and the third six pounds. That form reads well with Wholestone finishing third in the Albert Bartlett.
Young Dillon hasn't been over-raced during the winter; after a break of four and a half months he had a refresher at Bangor three weeks ago which, hopefully, will have put him spot on for this. He'll appreciate the decent ground and sports a first-time visor.
At 16/1 Young Dillon is the speculative each-way selection; most layers pay a quarter the odds four places provided the 16 make it to the start.
And here's a salutary Grand National footnote to conclude with....
Last week winning jockey Derek Fox had barely dismounted from One For Arthur when the landline rang.
My brother had struck seven £3.00 each-way bets at SP for various members of his family and was keen to ascertain what returns were due.
Using the back of one of my own unsuccessful betting slips, I calculated the return on Saint Are, third at 25/1, but he was far more interested in the return from Gas Line Boy who had crept into fifth at the rather juicy odds of 50/1.
The sums done, I asked the obvious question - which bookmaker had he placed his bets with? And therein lay the problem. 'The local bookmaker in the village,' came the reply. Trying very hard not to laugh out loud, I said 'Oh dear.'
Some time later I received official confirmation that Dave Pluck, an independent chain of bookmakers with thirty shops based in the north west, were paying four places on the Grand National.
Silly, I know, but a number of on-going straplines followed: 'Out of luck with Dave Pluck', 'Dave Pluck? What bad luck!' as well as some other straplines too.
After receiving a copy of the aforementioned betting slips, I further noted that one of his seven selections was Vieux Lion Rouge, sixth at odds of 12/1. The same wagers placed with Paddy Power (one fifth the odds six places) showed a profit of £19.20...
The moral of the story? Choose your bookmaker with care...